In the last five years, Airbus has made waves in the single-aisle, short-haul market with its A320neo family of aircraft. The ‘neo’ suffix stands for ‘New Engine Option,’ and these planes have proved popular for their increased range and efficiency compared to their predecessors. However, one original A320 family member has not been given the neo treatment: the A318. But why has Airbus not chosen to roll out a next-generation ‘Baby Bus’?
Airbus is yet to develop a ‘neo’ version of its A318. Photo: Getty Images
The existing A318 in a nutshell
Simple Flying took a closer look at the story of the Airbus A318 in March. The aircraft made its first flight nearly two decades ago, in January 2002, and entered service with Frontier Airlines the following year. However, it was launched at a difficult time for commercial aviation, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which had caused a downturn in the industry.
As such, the smallest member of the A320 family struggled for sales compared to its larger counterparts. Indeed, Airbus ultimately only ended up producing 80 examples. However, that isn’t to say that the aircraft wasn’t successful in its own niche market.
British Airways used to operate all-business-class A318s to JFK. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
For example, European carriers such as Air France and TAROM still fly the type on their lower-demand routes. British Airways also used to operate a pair of exclusive, all-business-class A318s between London City and New York JFK via Shannon, Ireland. However, this service came to an end last year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, could there be scope for Airbus to re-imagine the aircraft as the latest member of its neo family?
Minimal desire for smaller neo aircraft
As a whole, the A320neo family has been a significant commercial success. According to Airbus’s latest order and delivery figures, the series has received an impressive total of 7,372 orders. Of these, the European manufacturer has delivered 1,713 aircraft. However, the vast majority of these orders and deliveries concern the larger A320neo and A321neo models.
Spirit is set to be the first US A319neo operator. It already flies the original A319. Photo: Getty Images
Indeed, the smaller A319neo has received just 72 orders to date. Of this comparatively small figure, a mere three aircraft have been delivered, and all to private operators. As such, it appears that, in a commercial context, there is minimal demand for this aircraft, let alone an even smaller A318neo. With this in mind, it makes sense for Airbus not to have produced one.
Risk of conflict with the A220 family
The decision not to develop an A318neo was likely not only driven by a lack of demand, but also to avoid conflict with Airbus’s other designs. As Simple Flying explored in October 2020, further shrinking the A320neo family would pose the risk of a conflict with its A220 family.
The A220 entered service with SWISS in July 2016. Its success has minimized the need for smaller members of the A320neo family. Photo: Getty Images
This is because the existing A318’s capacity (90-110 passengers across two classes according to Airbus) is similar to the A220-100, which is this family’s smallest variant. According to Airbus, the aircraft has a two-class capacity of 110 passengers. As such, it already has a next-generation, lower-capacity jetliner in its portfolio.
Therefore, to add a second in the form of an A318neo would make little sense. Similarly, the success of the larger A220-300 has likely contributed to the A319neo’s low sales. Overall, the A220-100 is, in a way, a next-generation alternative to the A318, whose success has effectively removed the need for a neo version of the ‘Baby Bus.’
Have you ever flown on an existing Airbus A318? Would you like to see the type added to Airbus’s ‘neo’ portfolio? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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